Student Voice: We May Joke About ‘the Rona’ and Virtual Graduation, but Deep Down, We’re Scared. Here’s How I Learned to Manage Anxiety in the Time of COVID-19

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Just a month ago, the adviser to our high school newsmagazine asked our editorial board what we’d do if my school district closed due to the coronavirus. I said something like, “I don’t understand why people are freaking out about this. We’re not going to die.” After all, I felt like I had a pretty solid, in-depth understanding of what was happening — I’m a news freak.

I’d been keeping up with COVID-19 since December. I first read about it in an email from “theSkimm,” a daily newsletter. I didn’t know it would become a pandemic. At the time of our conversation, there were no confirmed cases in Kentucky. I didn’t understand how quickly a virus could spread across the globe, let alone how fast it could come to my state.

Two days later, on March 6, Gov. Andy Beshear announced the first COVID-19 case in Kentucky. That sure made things a whole lot more real. When my district in Louisville, the largest in the state, put out its “Pandemic Viral Event Plan Summary,” I started to consider the possibility of school closures. Then, on March 12, the district announced that we’d close the following Monday until April 6.

That’s what makes this scary. It happened so fast. To say the least, I’m not happy. I’m mad, frustrated, sad — and a little bored. Some are excited to be off of school for several weeks. I can’t say the same. This is my senior year. My best friends and I canceled our spring break trip. We might not finish our game of senior soakers. There might not be a prom or class trip. Maybe not even graduation. With closure now extended to at least April 20, that means that more of our senior events may be canceled. The past three and a half years have built up to these final few months of senior year — when school becomes less of a struggle and more about spending relaxed time with friends, classmates and teachers.

Sky Carroll

For me, the worst part is the timing. This is my last lacrosse season. My teammates are my best friends. Practice is the best part of my day — an escape from a tough school schedule and worries about my future. Lacrosse has my back. It’s helped me grow physically and mentally as I have improved my skills and relationships on and off the field. The season is when I feel most at home and alive; and because of the connections I’ve made, it’s the only place I feel I can be my authentic self. When school was first called off, the other captains and I tried to organize some player-led practices because we thought we’d get back to our season in two or three weeks. But understandably, that couldn’t happen due to social distancing guidelines. I still practice by myself outside — alone.

I know this all may sound trivial, and it is. I joke with my friends about “the rona” and laugh about the possibility of a virtual graduation ceremony. But the truth is, I’m scared. I’m worried that some people my age don’t understand the magnitude of this crisis. I continue to see some of my peers having sleepovers, going to parks together and generally disregarding our state’s social distancing and “healthy at home” guidelines. Just this week, a few friends were still hoping to go away together for spring break.

I know this is hard. After two weeks at home, my heart hurts. I feel a little helpless. But I also know that my generation, seniors especially, are some of the most resilient people on the planet. Some of us have stood up for student rights in schools. We’ve organized marches for gun reform, climate change and women’s rights. This situation is no exception. I encourage everyone, not just seniors, to do something. Pick up some groceries for an elderly neighbor (but still practice social distancing!). Call your grandparents. Write thank-you letters to health care workers — they deserve it. Write to people in nursing homes — they need it. Thank a teacher for their continued efforts under horrible circumstances. Watch that movie your mom keeps begging you to see — in my mom’s case, that would be A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.

I’ve come to find a new normal. Every morning, I open my curtains and windows and do “Yoga With Adriene” on YouTube. Then I drink a cup of coffee, sit by the window in my newly rearranged room and listen to the birds. I spend the middle of my days cleaning, reading Pride and Prejudice, throwing a lacrosse ball and doing schoolwork. I take my dog, Blu, for a walk, and I end most days by calling or FaceTiming a few friends. Finding new purpose and taking time to do things I enjoy has helped me cope with, even enjoy, being forced to stay at home.

Every day at 5 p.m., I sit with my laptop in front of me and watch Gov. Beshear’s daily press conference, typing updates to publish for “On the Record,” our school newsmagazine. Watching these helps me feel more at ease, especially when Beshear begins by encouraging all Kentuckians to say, “We will get through this. We will get through this together.” The Facebook group “andy beshear memes for social distancing teens” starts to blow up at 5 o’clock, with admiring words for how the governor is handling the crisis. His optimism and positive leadership makes hearing the scary stuff — about rising case numbers and the state’s struggle to fund personal protective equipment — a little less scary. This feeling of unity encourages me to practice social distancing and stay home.

But afterward, when I watch the national news with my mom, much of this hope turns again to fear, worry and sadness. I see doctors in Italy forced to choose whom to administer care to. I hear news that New York is on its way to similar conditions, with New Jersey and California not far behind. I see videos of nurses with tears in their eyes begging people to stay home.

During the first week my district was out, I watched an episode of Dr. Phil with my mom. We rarely watch it, but this episode featured some self-absorbed teens, and she thought I’d find it amusing. At the end, the subject shifted to the coronavirus. Dr. Phil started talking about how to manage anxiety. I’m paraphrasing, but here’s the gist:

Right now, people are anxious because they see the virus and the pandemic as a huge, unstoppable monster. They see themselves as small individuals who can’t do anything but be threatened by the monster. We need to switch that narrative. We have to look at ourselves as the big scary monster, and the virus as something that should be scared of us.

For it to be scared of us, we have to come together, support each other and do our part by staying home. So let’s get to it.

“Pandemic Notebook” is an ongoing collection of first-person, student-written articles about what it is like to live through the coronavirus pandemic. Have an idea? Please contact Executive Editor Andrew Brownstein at Andrew@The74million.org.

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